Brian is Six

Hey, there, Bud.

You’ve actually been six for weeks now, but it’s been a wild month and I didn’t have words to do justice to your you-ness. I still don’t, actually, but I have the space to try, anyway.

You learned to read this past year. It was funny, because I expected that to be a few years off yet. Your sisters learned at 7 and 8 (I think?), so it wasn’t really on my radar. I didn’t even know you knew all the letters, but at some point this spring, you started sounding things out. (Reading is like everything else here—not a battle I fight because I want you to enjoy it, and also because I’m tired.) Weird. But it’s awfully fun that you can.

You lost some teeth. The bottom two came out, and you have a top one that I could pull out if you wanted me to. (In the sledding pictures you can see it’s a little wonky. That’s because it’s barely attached.)

Just before this birthday, we moved to a new house. You’re in a new room with new freedom and all three sisters and a hill to sled on and woods to tromp around. Your constant delight brings me all the joy.

You’re such a delightful mix of little boy and big helper. You were my chunkiest baby (and the 9lb, 5oz bowling ball my body managed to birth because your mama is AWESOME), but the chub is all but gone, replaced by strong limbs and an enviable six-pack chiseled by days full of climbing, running, and general mayhem. Your cheeks, though. Those remain squishy and sweet and perfectly smoochable. You don’t even seem to mind that I compulsively kiss them on the regular.

You are so sweet, Brian. You, more than any of the girls, are the one that spontaneously professes your love for me, for them, for other close friends. Like the gratitude you have for things you’ve been given (every time you see them, for years), you just can’t not express your adoration for the people around you.

I call you my see-a-thing, do-a-thing boy. Your impulse control and executive function aren’t yet completely online, and that gets you in trouble pretty regularly. Know what I notice, though? The things that most frequently trip you up are when you want to help, you decide how you want to help, and you do… but it turns out in “helping,” you actually wind up doing something specifically disobedient. This is pretty tough, because you’re so sad and you just… forgot.

I see your heart, dude. I know you’re trying to help. I’m working on ways to have you help that are actually helpful and that don’t involve doing things that get you in trouble. But even when you do forget that you’re not allowed to, say, run the dishwasher without permission or light candles, I sure appreciate the desire you have to do things you think would help. You’ll figure out how to do it soon. I can see it coming.

It’s been quite a year, Brian. You’re growing just right. I sure love you.

thanks, no thanks, Pinkie Pie

Hi again! Long time, no write. (Wait. That sounds stupid. Whatever.) Anyway. I have a piece up at Kindred Mom again, so you can head there for the whole thing or read on for the first bit.

Lilly, barely 4 and still the baby, is laying on her belly in my bed beside me, chin in her hands, feet kicked up like she’s seen her big sisters do all her life. It’s about my bedtime and well past hers. An altercation between her sisters woke her up, and she needs a place to be while they settle down, so she’s chilling in my room while I read. It’s nice—there’s nothing really pressing; she’s just hanging out. 

But then she spots a shiny, black battery bank on my headboard and grabs it, immediately bringing it to her ear. It’s almost exactly the size of a phone, even happens to have its “on” button where an iPhone’s “home” is. She proceeds to prop herself up on her elbows and spend the next—I wish I were exaggerating—20 minutes staring at this black phone-like brick. She scrolls up and down with her right index finger, types away with her itty-bitty thumbs, makes and answers phone calls and video chats. “Hello, fwiends…Yes…No, I don’t think so, but I will in the afternoon. But first, we will have dinner.” Her one-sided “conversations”  sound eerily familiar. What has happened that my 4-year-old would rather talk to a piece of plastic than to me? I’m right here, reading, and that never kept her from chattering at me before.

I’m not offended that she doesn’t want to talk to me—it’s 10:00 pm and I’d rather not be talking to children right now—but why is the “screen” so intriguing to her, even when it’s not doing anything?

Then it comes to me—I remember being in my bedroom several weeks before, putting away laundry while Jenna (my oldest, age 9) chattered on, narrating a picture book she’d written called “The Boy Who Didn’t Baleev In Himself.”

“…and then the boy tried to fly, but he just fell on the ground. ‘Oof. I guess I’m just no good at anything.’ Mom! Are you even listening?”

(Head here for the rest.)

the best decision I didn’t want to make (guest post at Kindred Mom)

Hi! Kindred Mom has kicked off the fall series and I had one go up last week. You can read the whole thing here or continue reading for a piece of it.


Do I really want to do this?

I was eight months pregnant. Four hours of tossing and turning now counted as  “a good night’s sleep” so I could have one at least every now and then. Sitting in line at a coffee hut, waiting for something called a “White Zombie” which promised even more caffeine than a regular 20oz. latte, I discussed my plans for the evening with my BFF. (Yes, I was having an ungodly amount of caffeine while pregnant. Yes, it noticeably freaked out the bowling-ball-sized boy under my shirt. But I was low on options—I needed to parent my pair of toddler girls.) 

My sister was in town for the first time since she’d moved to Europe a few years prior. We’d hung out some, but I felt a little panicked at our limited remaining time. Her plans that evening included a reunion of the book club she’d been in when she last lived here—and I was invited. 

This morning, I’d dragged myself out of bed after an even-worse-than-normal night’s sleep. I was uncomfortable (see: eight months pregnant) and grumpy. The idea of dragging my enormous, introverted self, after dinner, to a stranger’s house full of women I didn’t know (but who all knew each other) sounded…less than appealing at 11 in the morning when I was already fried. 

“I don’t know if I have it in me. I want to spend as much time with Kori as possible, but I just don’t know if I can,” I said into the phone. My friend reminded me I was free to go or to skip it, then let me talk myself in circles until I figured out what was most important to me today: I tentatively planned to go. Time with my sister was more valuable than avoiding the unpleasantness of peopling while pregnant.

As the day wore on, I continued to waffle. The regular business of toddler sass and making dinner drained what little energy I had left—the effects of my late-morning White Zombie had worn off long before—but changing a decision I’d already made seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I put on my cutest casual maternity top (making an effort, but not trying too hard) and a ton of concealer under my eyes and went. 

(Continue reading here.)

would you help?

Hi! I haven’t posted in more than a month, despite good intentions, prompts, and “I’m gonna post weekly” commitment that was unbroken into July.

I’m betting you didn’t notice (I barely did), or if you did, you weren’t super worried about it. I only bring it up because of why I wasn’t posting.

I wrote a book.

Well, kinda. Me and eight very talented women.

I present to you:

The last month was heavy on my part of production (copyediting and proofreading), so I went a little quiet. It was a good quiet. A “head down, work hard” kind of quiet.

The job isn’t done yet, though. Because we didn’t write this book for fun (though it was) or for our own egos (though we are proud of it). We wrote it for you, for your friends, for the mamas you know. We wrote this to remind you you are…

Strong enough to heft a flailing, screaming toddler out of a grocery store.

Brave enough to teach babies how to be humans and launch them into the world.

Beautiful in your forever-changed body, wherever your hair growth (or loss) is at in the hormonal roller coaster, whatever the scale says, with all the stretch marks and saggy (or fantastic!) boobs.

These are stories. There are no experts on this team, only us—mamas who know the unspeakable burden and privilege of motherhood. We’re not the boss of you, but the stories of this group of moms—ranging from “granola” to “cheetos,” with all kinds of personality types, family sizes from one kid to seven—might illuminate your stories. They may even help you reframe yours.

They’re stories of hope. We don’t airbrush our messes, but each of us is committed to pointing you through the mess toward beauty.

They’re stories of hope for moms. Not a mom? Super! You’re welcome to read. I’d love for you to, actually. I think they’re illuminating whatever your life stage. But if you are a mom, this is especially for you.

These are stories of hope for moms in the weeds. Because, let’s face it: motherhood can bury us. We want to join you in the weeds, to give you a chuckle and some hope and mostly company because it can be lonely. While we’re here, let’s look at those weeds. Are some of them wildflowers?

But you said something about helping. This reads like a commercial.

No it doesn’t. There is a commercial (we call it a “trailer”) and if you’re interested, it’s here.

But yes. I would love your help.

Because I know you, but, as I mentioned, we wrote it for you and your friends and I don’t know your friends. Would you be up for spreading the word? We have a launch team that goes from September 21 through October. You get to read an early copy of Strong, Brave, & Beautiful, and we’d love if you’d read it and rate on Amazon and Goodreads. If you’d like, you can also be on our launch team. What’s that? Glad you asked. It’s a Facebook group, mostly, but the cool kind where there are easy, low-pressure, fun, gentle tasks. And also prizes. (Did you catch how not-bonkers we are? We’re living through 2020, too, so we’re not gonna heap a bunch of stupid extra work on you. Nobody needs that.) The only requirement is a.) that you want to do it and b.) that you know someone with offspring.

So. If this seems like something you’d like to do (either launch team or just reading and reviewing), fill out this form so we can get you your early copy. I’d love to have your help spreading the word.

Once again (because posts like this always seem to have it twice), CLICK HERE for the form.

my fourth baby’s fourth birthday

Lilly, you are four today.

The older you (and I) get, the less likely it seems that there will be a fifth baby, so each time you leave a phase behind, it’s a little bittersweet. Is it a lot of pressure, sweet girl, to carry all my baby nostalgia? I’ll try to keep that in check.

I won’t say you’re growing too fast. This is the twenty-sixth birthday letter to a child of mine I’ve written, and every time, I’ve told each of you, “You’re growing up just right.” And it’s true. You are. But it just feels so dang fast. Your babyhood and toddlerhood are now pretty fully behind us. How? I feel like I’ve missed a lot. Like you’ve gotten less of me than your siblings did, precisely because you have so many siblings. But even if you’ve gotten less of me (and I’m not sure that’s objectively true), you’ve gotten more snuggles, more attention, certainly more independence, more love, again, because siblings.

They delight in you like your Dad and I do. (Also, everyone else.) And is it any wonder? You’re all giggles and sparkly effervescence. Even in your toddlerest moments, when you yell for something and then yell at whoever gave you the thing you just asked for, we have to hide smiles. And in your sassy moments, when you’re acting like a tiny teenager, your hand on your hip which is popped out just so, you’re hilarious. Between the toddler and teenager moments, we’ve dubbed you “Lilly the Affectionate.” You give “luffs” freely and enthusiastically, stroking cheeks, squeezing necks, burrowing hugs.

Baby (and it’s my prerogative to call you”baby” as long as I want to because I gave birth to you), I love you. I love your funny and your sassy, your sweet and your mad. I really enjoyed your baby- and toddlerhood, but that’s most of all because I love you. You becoming a big girl (“Bagel”? “Pickle”? I truly will mourn the day you learn to pronounce “girrrrl”) doesn’t diminish that in any way. It adds to it. You are growing up just right.

a look back at June

Somehow it’s July already (and not even the beginning anymore). As I’ve done the last few months, I’m borrowing Emily P. Freeman’s reflection questions to pause and look back over my month. Once again, I’m reordering them capriciously.

What’s the best thing that could happen in July?

Done already happened: Alycia arrived Sarah and Beth released their 500th episode which made me cry and Hamilton dropped on Disney+ ALL ON THE SAME DAY. (I converted to the devoted fandom of Hamilton the morning of the third and have since fallen down a very deep rabbit hole.) The rest of the month is gravy. Take that, 2020.

What’s one thing you’ve learned?

Andrew gave me a gift at the beginning of the month: Mondays. Because Covid slowed his work down while my various projects are ramping up, he offered to stay home and let me work elsewhere on Mondays. This finds me every monday sitting in the parking lot of the library, mooching their wicked-fast wifi because I can’t go in—they’re only open “by appointment.” (I keep meaning to call and figure out what, exactly, that means.) I am learning how hard it is to focus even when I don’t have kids around. I still have various notifications interrupting me and a brain pinging between a dozen different projects. But I’m also learning how much I can get done when I do focus. When I sit down with my laptop open, manage to settle myself along the bench seat of Andrew’s pickup without a seatbelt buckle jabbing me in the thigh, turn off Slack notifications and the Hamilton soundtrack and just make my fingers type words—even if they feel stupid—I can knock out a lot of work. It turns out, it doesn’t matter if my writing is stupid as long as I’m getting it out. It’s relatively simple to edit crappy first drafts into something less crappy, then workable, then maybe good. As painful and slow as this process is, it’s less ridiculous than staring at an outline and never get any words down at all.

Where did you see God in June?

One of my best friends was supposed to move up in the middle of the month. She was going to move in with us, but there’s construction stuff going on and we didn’t have a place for her then. This wouldn’t be a problem except that she’s become a crazy cat mom recently, and she was worried about the stress of multiple moves for her kitty. She really just needed a place to be and stay and we didn’t yet have one. Early in the month, she asked me, “would it be less stressful if I just pushed it back a couple of weeks?” I hesitated to answer, because I dearly wanted her here, but also… yes. It would be less stressful.

She moved her ticket from the 15th of June to the 3rd of July and we all moved on with our lives. About three weeks ago, she called me on one of my Monday workdays (I now spend Mondays out of the house getting writing and editing done). “Do you have margin?” I was in the library parking lot about to start a timed writing sprint. I had just set up the timer and my finger was hovering over “start” when the phone rang. If she had called one second later, I’d have let it go to voicemail because I can be weird and legalistic about these things.

“He got in an accident. He went to the ER. I was in a therapy session.”

The words came out in a jumble. It took a second for me to figure out who had been hurt, how badly, and that he was not likely to die, though he absolutely should have. One of her closest friends local to her in NC (whom I also adore) had been pinned between his brand-new, very large pickup and a crappy old equipment shed. If the shed had any less structural integrity, it would’ve collapsed had he’d have been mowed down. If it’d had any more, the wall wouldn’t have flexed enough for him to get breath and he’d have suffocated. He happened to be connected via bluetooth, which, persnickety as it tends to be, happened to understand his gasping words. The man he called happened to be an EMT and close enough to find him after he was purple from the eyes up and grey from the eyes down but before he was dead. He happened to have zero major internal injuries, despite being crushed at his midsection by thousands of pounds of truck. His wife happenes to work in an orthopedic practice, thus finding him the best available care for each of his major orthopedic surgeries.

It happened to be June 15th. Alycia should have been in the air. Instead, she happened to be staying in this friend’s guest room between the end of her lease at the beginning of the month and her flight to Alaska.

She spent the last three weeks being the hands and feet of Jesus to him, providing ice, helping after surgery on his radius and then his tibia. Because of a stressful inconvenience in our construction timeline.

I would not have chosen to have either the remodeling or her arrival pushed back. I was mad about it, to be honest. I’m not anymore. I now see (again)—I don’t have all the data and sometimes God is at work in my inconveniences to bring about His plans.

pink tutus as a cure for overwhelm?

“How do I stop defining myself as overwhelmed?”

Melissa asked this question five minutes ago in slack (one of an absurd number of platforms our team uses to communicate), but it’s been in my head for at least five years. My two basic moods are overwhelmed and asleep. Lindsey chimed in “fragmented” which is a piece (ha!) of overwhelm that fits pretty well for me, too.


We’re at a barbecue in my parents’ back yard, the first such gathering after quarantine. My dad is manning the grill, my mom, sister, and brother-in-law are sitting in camp chairs around the firepit. Marshmallows will be roasted (and incinerated) later, but right now, all the food is out, we’re just waiting for meat so we can pray and eat. It’s a gorgeous day—75 and clear. Andrew is lounging in the hammock strung between two birch trees with leaves all the way out. The “big” girls (my two and a cousin, ages seven through nine) are whispering to each other on the ground near the fire while Brian “mows the lawn” with a little Playskool mower that probably used to blow bubbles. The littlest two? They’re swinging. Petra (two) is in the baby swing chattering happily while Lilly (giant by comparison) oscillates on the red plastic “big girl” swing beside her.

“Push me!”

This phrase from two little girls on one primary-colored plastic playset (again, Playskool) is on constant repeat. Petra’s light blue eyes shine. They’d both prefer to have Grandpa push them, but, as mentioned, he’s at the grill, so I have to suffice. I push them and pretend to be offended when I “accidentally” stand too close and they kick me and they giggle. I’m not as good at swings as my dad, mostly owing to the enormous camera I have slung across my body. I push them (and turn around to let them kick my backside) just frequently enough to keep them happy, but otherwise, I am intent on capturing their joy.

Lilly Mae’s eyes are generating their own light, even though they’re mostly closed because her smile is so big. The pink and purple swimsuit (with a tutu!) is clearly too big for her, thus hanging off her shoulders and her butt. She squeals in delight constantly, throwing her head back so she spends most of her swinging upside-down.

Even though I was working hard to get settings and focus right (focus is not easy when they’re swinging), I was not overwhelmed then.


I’m on the hunt right now for other moments like this, when I don’t feel overwhelmed, looking for common threads. For now, Lilly may have to live in her swimsuit.


This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Snapshot”.

on gardening (and motherhood)

I’m part of Exhale, a creative community for mothers of faith. They’re doing a creativity challenge this week, and today was “Write 20 minutes.” So here are twenty minutes of my thoughts:

I’m sitting on the edge of a planter in my “office” (the parking lot of the library). I can smell the honey scent of alyssum, planted every ten inches around the bed like little guards. Those and the sunflowers are the only ones I can identify. There are some tall burgundy ones with cream-tipped petals standing head and shoulders and probably knees above the rest. I assume the others around them will catch up before long, but for now, they’re almost comically tall .

I am, if it is not manifestly clear already, not a gardener. I have killed all manner of plants—I kept African violets alive for a while—months, even— but that’s my record. I tried to grow zucchini one year. I got one plant and it produced one mutant spherical zucchini. When I mentioned this to my friend Carla over lunch at Wendy’s, she explained that I needed to have two zucchini plants at least. That makes sense. Pollination and stuff. “Sometimes you have to pollinate them yourself, too,” she told me. I looked quizzically at her and learned that plant reproduction is much more similar to mammalian reproduction than I imagined. (And that, my friends, is the story of the time I learned about zucchini sex at lunch hour over a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger and four-piece nugget with honey mustard.) I killed a cactus once. Every time I tell someone this, they’re like, “Ooooooh. You musta overwatered it.” But no. I’m quite sure I didn’t do that. I think I actually let the thing die from lack of water because I was so afraid of overwatering it. “Don’t overwater it!” This was the refrain. So I did not. It died anyhow. (Apparently you shouldn’t UNDERwater them, either.)

I think next summer is my summer. I’m in a Marco Polo chat with friends that’s been about 50% devoted to our various gardens all spring, and I think they might be able to hold my hand through the process next year. I’ve already told Andrew I’d like some raised beds. Will I like it? I have no idea. To be quite honest, gardening seems like it’s going to feel like a lot of slow work for minimal production. Not unlike parenting, I guess, but, as I’ve mentioned, I actually kind of hate mothering. I love my kids (as I am certain I will love the seedlings and sprouts and flowers) but the daily work of it just wears on me. It’s a lot of work turning a baby into a reasonable adult, and I’m not at all sure we’re going to reach that result.

I wonder if gardening is going to be another thing I commit to, like pieces of, but dislike in general. I wonder if I’m going to fail at it again. (At least I understand zucchini sex?) I am hoping there’s a difference. Back when I was 25 and growing a single mutant squash (named Lucky) while others in town were producing so much that the Food Bank in Fairbanks put out an APB: “PLEASE NO MORE ZUCCHINI,” it seemed simple enough. Dirt. Plants. Water. Sun. I didn’t even consider asking for help. Actually, I approached motherhood similarly. I knew how to child care. No problem. “Now I just gotta get me one a’ them babies, and I’m set. Diapers. Milk. Car seat. The end.”

Come to find out, community is not a peripheral part of either. I absolutely cannot do parenting without people. I go from hating motherhood to also disliking my children so fast when I don’t have other moms to tug me along. I can’t garden without community, either. (Whether or not I can garden WITH community remains to be seen. Worth a shot.)

prayer of petition and lament for white people during racial unrest

Lord God, we see the pain around us—
the rage rightly boiling over,
from and on behalf of the oppressed.
We confess our participation within this system,
our willful ignorance of suffering and injustice,
our indifference to the pain we see that does not affect us,
the reticence to see the ways in which we are complicit.

Father, we lament the centuries of injustice.
We weep for the ways in which those
who look like us have justified all of it,
from slavery to Jim Crow to redlining,
gerrymandering, mass incarceration,
and countless other offenses.
Our hearts break for the ways
we have blamed the people we have wronged—
the ways we still blame black and brown bodies
for pain we inflict on them—
upon those You have created in Your image.

Spirit, teach us to listen.
Guide us to voices with experiences
different from our own.
Grant us a divine ability to hear
without giving in to defensiveness.
Help us speak when we need to speak in our circles
to confront insidious bias,
but help us do so with grace and love
so we might be allowed to do it for a long time.
Help us be silent when our voices
are unnecessary or distracting.
May we amplify voices that need to be heard.
Keep us from centering ourselves,
either focusing on our discomfort
or positioning ourselves as white saviors.

Search us, O God. Know our hearts.
Gently but persistently address the sin You find lurking.

Within ourselves, help us maintain
a posture of humility and compassion,
learning and serving in the ways available to us.

Within our families, show us how to teach
our children not to see Blackness as a threat
and not to weaponize race against others.

Within our communities, help us to challenge
each other’s biases and push each other to do the work.

Within our cities, states, and nation,
let us work and vote for change
in the systems that have caused so much pain.

Christ, teach us to follow Your example:
caring for those in our spheres of influence,
challenging assumptions,
fighting those who abuse power in Your name.
Give us wisdom to know when to do each of those.
Let us do always and only what the Father tells us to do,
always keeping grace and truth together.
And when public incidents of racism
temporarily fade from the public eye,
keep truth and grace in our hearts still.

Amen.

a look back at May

The last couple months, I’ve been following Emily Freeman’s prompts to look back over the one that just ended. I managed to delete that email this time, so I’m making it up.

something I learned

May was rough. Especially the last little bit. I was asked why I follow the news so closely when it stresses me out so bad. It’s a valid question: I could do with less and my stress level would probably be lower. But I learned the news gives me sufficient context to know 1. There is more to the story than just this story and 2. I know very little outside my own lived experience.

It’s nice to have an answer to the question.

something I’m bringing into June

Related: I’m making a concerted effort to sit down and shut up and listen to people with different experiences than I do. So I have a ton of books and my instagram feed is much more diverse than it was. My TBR stack now has books by Ta Nehisi Coates (Water Dancer) and Coleson Whitehead (Underground Railroad) and Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise). This will probably work its way out in words—I imagine some of my work to do is talking about it more with white friends. For now, I need to read. And, for this moment, I’m not linking Amazon or even Bookshop for the titles, but instead recommend ordering from one of these stores. It feels insufficient. But its a start.

Also, I’m praying this prayer repeatedly. And also this one.

funny stuff heard from a kid

Lilly’s personality somehow keeps growing. (It was never small.) Lately she’s been saying, with great authority, “Watch and learn.” Generally there is no context to be found, it’s just thrown about randomly. Cracks me up.